Today it seems normal to take street style photographs, have a blog where to share or simply create our reportage of what strikes us. But who was the founding father of street photography? He was a gentleman who roamed the streets of New York by bicycle with his blue workman’s jacket, a poncho sheltered with duct tape and a camera around his neck. His name was Bill Cunningham.
Born in 1929, his life seems like the making of a film. Coming from a working-class family, he began his career as a reporter after the Second World War and is said to have also started making hats so appreciated as to have as customers Ginger Rogers and Marilyn Monroe. But around the 70s, Bill Cunningham began to look around, to discover the street, in particular the street fashion that he thought was the answer to the fashion that the catwalks offered. Thus began his adventure in his habitat.
He was given a column of his own in The New York Times newspaper “On The Street” where he portrayed famously and otherwise, stars and strangers, all elegant, eccentric, dressed up in the latest fashion or dressed in the most classic style there is. He photographed the way ordinary people wore and customized clothes from the catwalks (revolutionizing the fashion journalism of the time), ran from one charity gala to another without ever taking a penny or a glass of wine, telling the past four decades of style like no other. He published little but kept everything in his apartment, a bedroom without bathroom and kitchen, but with an immense archive above Manhattan’s Carnegie Hall. An intense and free life to the last shot told in a 2010 documentary by Richard Press when Bill Cunningham was still alive, and for once he was the protagonist. A documentary that underlines his imprint as an inventor of street-style, a phenomenon that has exploded in the craze of bloggers, experts and as many photojournalists with the times of the internet.
But it is not the only one. This year, on February 14, the second documentary dedicated to him will be released: “The time of Bill Cunningham” by Mark Bazek. A documentary this vote focuses on a selection of photographs chosen from over 3 million images and documents previously not published by Cunningham and a six-hour interview recently unearthed in 1994. The narrative voice will be by actress Sarah Jessica Parker.
Cunningham died at 87 in June 2016 after leading an austere and monastic life, never retiring because he enjoyed doing his job. Only then did his family find the manuscript in which he recounts his life from four years onwards, deciding to publish it.
“If Bill didn’t photograph you, then it was like saying you didn’t exist.” So Anna Wintour remembers Bill Cunningham, and that’s how we want to introduce him to you.